All of us juggle a number of relationships in our daily lives: family, friends, intimate partners, business partners, associates, casual acquaintances, etc. Each relationship takes our time, energy, and attention.
Although there isn’t a single universally accepted definition, the term “primary relationship” denotes a high level of involvement you have with another. Simply put: Where your attention is, your heart will also be.
This high level of involvement could be an intense, emotional attachment and connection to another person… or it could be formed by financial and living arrangements… or it can be sustained by the sharing of child-rearing responsibilities.
This “high level of involvement” doesn’t necessarily have to involve other people nor does this “involvement” have to be a healthy one. Various addictions fall into this category — where the only thing that matters to the person is the next fix. Narcissistic personalities can have a primary relationship with themselves above all others. [And to clarify: These are NOT the types of healthy primary relationships I was referring to in the last post.]
For now, let’s focus on couples in primary relationships…
This high level of involvement between you and your partner places that partner on “top of your relationship list.” This primary relationship is the relationship that takes precedence over all others. When that person needs something, you put everyone else “on hold” and take care of that person’s need.
Now, this works great if both partners are primary partners for each other. Each knows that the other will be there for the other… above all others. Their expectations are met by the other.
The problem comes in when we believe we’re in a primary relationship with another, but that other person doesn’t give us that primary status. We’re not on the top of the relationship list, but mixed somewhere in the middle or bottom. Because of this, our expectations are not being met.
Let me give you some examples:
Two people start to date. After several months, both pledge their love to the other. For the woman, she begins to build her expectations for the relationship. She expects to be placed on the top of his relationship list — above his mother, father, sisters, male friends, sports events, computer games, etc.
For the man, he sees himself picking up a new and developing relationship that he fits into his already full schedule. This new relationship is not treated as a primary relationship, but as one of many that he deals with throughout his day.
As the relationship evolves, the woman presses for more of his attention, and the more she presses the more he pulls away. Her persistent requests for his time and attention are viewed as nagging, clinging, and needy. Stress and frustrations develop between the two because expectations aren’t being met.
Another man and woman are primary partners for each other. A newborn enters the picture. During the baby’s early months/years, the mother’s attention shifts from her partner to their baby. After taking care of the baby all day and night, the mother has no energy to give to her partner. Her partner begins to feel unseen and rejected. His needs are not being met as they once were.
The husband works long hours, takes calls in the middle of the night, and is off on long business trips. His primary relationship has shifted to his company and his successful career — and away from his wife. As for the wife, she still needs to be in a primary relationship… if not with her husband, then with someone else.
The expectations built into a primary relationship play a key role in each of these scenarios. As each partner fulfills the other’s needs, things run smoothly — but once expectations become unfulfilled, frustration begins to seep into the cracks of the relationship. If left unattended, other feelings may move in as well… feelings like hurt, blame, anger, rejection, jealousy, distrust, betrayal, etc.
Anyway…that’s what I mean by primary relationships. Simply put: Where your attention is, your heart will also be.